Have your say: English A-level student numbers plummet following GCSE reforms Watch

shooks
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vicvic38
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So I sat my English language GCSE in the November 2015 series, my Literature GCSE in the June 2016 series (both old spec,) and my Literature A level in the June 2018 series (new spec) (getting a, a*, A respectively,) and none of this surprises me at all. These GCSE reforms completely miss the point of the study of literature. It's not about memorising tonnes of quotes for no reason at all. Any memorisation comes because the quote is key, and interesting.

It's no wonder kids are being scared out of the A level, if what they are being expected to do is memorise reams and reams of text. It's worthless busywork, that does not give any indication to the A level study of literature at all. I memorised 10 quotes per text for my A level, all through just considering and analysing the text.

Ireland has it more than right. Their Junior and Leaving Cert exams do not have set texts. Teachers can teach anything, and the exams are statements to be responded to uniquely and sensitively, much like during a degree.
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Tolgarda
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(Original post by vicvic38)
Ireland has it more than right. Their Junior and Leaving Cert exams do not have set texts. Teachers can teach anything, and the exams are statements to be responded to uniquely and sensitively, much like during a degree.
I believe that the International Baccalaureate Organisation uses the same practice.
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avacados1
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How do u expect anyone to love something when the only experience they have had of it is memorising 16 poems, 4 pointless books for no reason but to help in exams
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vicvic38
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Good! There is no reason why literature should have set texts. You set a selection of themes in the spec, and allow teachers to teach texts around those themes. If you must have the cannon in there, then say that they must study a text by x writer, but it needn't be set specifically.
(Original post by Tolgarda)
I believe that the International Baccalaureate Organisation uses the same practice.
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Tolgarda
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(Original post by vicvic38)
Good! There is no reason why literature should have set texts. You set a selection of themes in the spec, and allow teachers to teach texts around those themes. If you must have the cannon in there, then say that they must study a text by x writer, but it needn't be set specifically.
If I'm being completely honest, I think set texts help standardise things a little more. It makes it easier to assess, which is a good thing because we want accurate assessment.

That being said, it doesn't have to be that way. I don't mind either way, to be perfectly honest. I'm fine with a literature curriculum that prescribes or doesn't prescribe texts.
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vicvic38
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In my opinion it stifles study of literature because it inevitably prescribes certain readings and interpretations. Literature should be teaching the formation and argument of ideas pertaining to a text, but currently, it tends to circulate around the same argument of the same few texts. Students don't have space to form arguments because all the texts are ones that have been studied to death (All of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Wilde, Milton, etc) and so have little new to be added to the conversation.

We are assessing literature in the wrong way. A GCSE literature essay will not contain any ideas complex enough that substantial knowledge of the text is necessary. One could argue that perhaps set texts prevent students making up information about a text. However, that is far more work than it is worth, and what does it matter if the argumentative skills are there?

A Literature essay should be marked according to the argumentative and appraisal skill presented therein. Not on wrote knowledge of the text. Not on conformity to preconceived notions surrounding a text. The only way to do this is to release it from the shackles of a set text.
(Original post by Tolgarda)
If I'm being completely honest, I think set texts help standardise things a little more. It makes it easier to assess, which is a good thing because we want accurate assessment.

That being said, it doesn't have to be that way. I don't mind either way, to be perfectly honest. I'm fine with a literature curriculum that prescribes or doesn't prescribe texts.
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Tolgarda
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(Original post by vicvic38)
In my opinion it stifles study of literature because it inevitably prescribes certain readings and interpretations. Literature should be teaching the formation and argument of ideas pertaining to a text, but currently, it tends to circulate around the same argument of the same few texts. Students don't have space to form arguments because all the texts are ones that have been studied to death (All of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Wilde, Milton, etc) and so have little new to be added to the conversation.
Now, while I understand your point, I disagree. English literature is a subject in which there is never going to merely be one particular interpretation of a text. The beauty of the discipline is that the same texts can be studied annually with different interpretations coming to light.

Different classes always inspire different interpretations of the same text. I've seen it as I have helped in an upper-fifth literature class this year, and the same teacher not only had more to say on the text, but seemed to elicit a wide range of sentiments, different to the ones forged by my class.

(Original post by vicvic38)
We are assessing literature in the wrong way. A GCSE literature essay will not contain any ideas complex enough that substantial knowledge of the text is necessary. One could argue that perhaps set texts prevent students making up information about a text. However, that is far more work than it is worth, and what does it matter if the argumentative skills are there?
No GCSE essay is bound to a particular level of quality, and many essays can easily surpass the requirements of the top level due to how perceptive they are.

(Original post by vicvic38)
A Literature essay should be marked according to the argumentative and appraisal skill presented therein. Not on wrote knowledge of the text. Not on conformity to preconceived notions surrounding a text. The only way to do this is to release it from the shackles of a set text.
A GCSE literature essay at the top level may indeed contain some rote learnt interpretations of a particular literary oeuvre, but most will be novel and show off an idiosyncratic flair. Most answers that do not bother to handle the text with a degree of originality are weaker answers. I've seen many top-level scripts, and I myself have been a producer of quite a few of them. My GCSE scripts are on this site, and I am sure that these are, for the most part, original and quite creative interpretations. Have you not seen a GCSE mark scheme? You are most definitely marked on your appraisal skill.

Speaking of which, these are also truly tested in the examinations when you are faced with unseen literature. In my exams, I had to compare two unseen poems: no preconceived knowledge, no nothing, just what my close-reading analysis could give me. At A Level, this is no different. You are faced with the task of critically appreciating an unseen text in prose or verse, whichever one the awarding body sees fit to include for their qualification to be rigorous and fruitful enough to its consumers (the teachers teaching and students studying it). This is just part of the package for a KS4 or KS5 literature qualification.

To say that these skills aren't fostered or are neglected in lieu of rote learning is a little unfair, in my opinion. I sat the new spec, and no learning is killed. I can confidently say, despite this, that weaker students probably have their hopes of studying the subject further killed, which can be interpreted in different ways. The way I see it, it spares them the possible struggles of KS5's rigour. The grade boundaries for GCE are also ridiculously high, and it might be quite demoralising as well.
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by vicvic38)
So I sat my English language GCSE in the November 2015 series, my Literature GCSE in the June 2016 series (both old spec,) and my Literature A level in the June 2018 series (new spec) (getting a, a*, A respectively,) and none of this surprises me at all. These GCSE reforms completely miss the point of the study of literature. It's not about memorising tonnes of quotes for no reason at all. Any memorisation comes because the quote is key, and interesting.

It's no wonder kids are being scared out of the A level, if what they are being expected to do is memorise reams and reams of text. It's worthless busywork, that does not give any indication to the A level study of literature at all. I memorised 10 quotes per text for my A level, all through just considering and analysing the text.

Ireland has it more than right. Their Junior and Leaving Cert exams do not have set texts. Teachers can teach anything, and the exams are statements to be responded to uniquely and sensitively, much like during a degree.
(Original post by Tolgarda)
I believe that the International Baccalaureate Organisation uses the same practice.
To a point in IB, yes. There is a list of texts for the world lit component, but it's so extensive that teachers have virtually free reign in their choice. I believe the texts for the final exams are completely free choice; the exam questions themselves are fairly general (usually genre based) and can be answered with a large number of texts in different ways.

However you're expected to write on at least three texts for the exams, and one of the world lit courseworks has to involve two texts, so between the world lit element and the fact you write about more texts together, it's much more of a comparative flavour. We weren't expected to have memorised specific quotes as such, we just needed to have enough textual evidence learned to bring to bear in the exam. So you just learned key bits of the text you needed to (or some that stuck out in your memory) and used those in your answers. There was also an unseen poem paper, and oral exams which were focused on close analysis of one text (one pre-prepared, the other one we were given an extract from one of the texts we'd been studying 20 minutes before the oral to prepare).

At least, this was the case when I did HL English about 10 years ago, it may have changed But the benefit of the IB curriculum was definitely that it gave the teachers a lot of choice in what they could teach, and they could then select texts tailored to a particular cohort's ability if needed etc I guess, and also do texts which might otherwise be unusual. For example, my school originally did Kafka's Metamorphosis but then dropped it later, and when I was there we did Glengarry Glenn Ross, which is probably not a very typical high school literature text
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Tolgarda
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(Original post by artful_lounger)
To a point in IB, yes. There is a list of texts for the world lit component, but it's so extensive that teachers have virtually free reign in their choice. I believe the texts for the final exams are completely free choice; the exam questions themselves are fairly general (usually genre based) and can be answered with a large number of texts in different ways.

However you're expected to write on at least three texts for the exams, and one of the world lit courseworks has to involve two texts, so between the world lit element and the fact you write about more texts together, it's much more of a comparative flavour. We weren't expected to have memorised specific quotes as such, we just needed to have enough textual evidence learned to bring to bear in the exam. So you just learned key bits of the text you needed to (or some that stuck out in your memory) and used those in your answers. There was also an unseen poem paper, and oral exams which were focused on close analysis of one text (one pre-prepared, the other one we were given an extract from one of the texts we'd been studying 20 minutes before the oral to prepare).

At least, this was the case when I did HL English about 10 years ago, it may have changed But the benefit of the IB curriculum was definitely that it gave the teachers a lot of choice in what they could teach, and they could then select texts tailored to a particular cohort's ability if needed etc I guess, and also do texts which might otherwise be unusual. For example, my school originally did Kafka's Metamorphosis but then dropped it later, and when I was there we did Glengarry Glenn Ross, which is probably not a very typical high school literature text
I stand corrected. Anyway, I think it would be right to say that they are advocates of choice rather than prescription.
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by Tolgarda)
I stand corrected. Anyway, I think it would be right to say that they are advocates of choice rather than prescription.
Yes, for sure. Also in keeping with their "international" ethos, they really emphasise world literature and comparative approaches, which I think is a good thing. The A-level curriculum seems very focused on 19th and early 20th century British literature, plus the mandatory Shakespeare...
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Tolgarda
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(Original post by artful_lounger)
Yes, for sure. Also in keeping with their "international" ethos, they really emphasise world literature and comparative approaches, which I think is a good thing. The A-level curriculum seems very focused on 19th and early 20th century British literature, plus the mandatory Shakespeare...
I agree. The only foreign literature that I know of is the American literature option in my awarding body's syllabus, and Ibsen's A Doll's House (which I actually study).
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vicvic38
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I studied A Doll's House at A level! Absolutely cracking play, one of my favourites,
(Original post by Tolgarda)
I agree. The only foreign literature that I know of is the American literature option in my awarding body's syllabus, and Ibsen's A Doll's House (which I actually study).
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Obolinda
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good article
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ltsmith
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because we had enough of it at gcse

I hate poetry
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I did gcse English last year and did an access to he diploma and a gcse this year. I didn't take English at level 3, despite getting a great mark at gcse, because I just couldn't risk getting a low grade when I don't need English A level. English gcse was so boring and I'm surprised I did as well as I did, I wasn't going to risk my future on it.
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rozinaaa
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I did English Language at A Level and I regretted doing it since it was taught in a boring way, not to mention that this year (my second year) the subject was taught for 5 hours in one day (rather than it being spread out over the week, so it did seem overwhelming to have it all at once every Thursday). Don't get me wrong, I did use to enjoy reading books and writing my own pieces of work, but I feel that doing it at A Level has put me off doing them both since I'll just subconsciously analyse everything, and have my work contain some hidden meanings even though I do tend to say it as it is (although I've been told that I write in a poetic manner).

I mainly did it at A Level since I somehow managed to get a 7 at GCSE, and also because I thought it was mainly going to focus on creative writing, but boy I was wrong! That side of the subject was barely covered, and I hated that I signed up for a subject that I grew to hate due to having to learn unnecessary things such as how a child learns how to speak and how language has changed over the past 500 years (they do seem interesting, but when I learned them, I wasn't really in the right mindset all year, so I ended up hating them along with the subject as a whole).

Overall, I feel like I'm going to get a very bad grade for it because I didn't feel passionate enough to do well in it (since I focused more on my other A Levels which seemed much more interesting because English felt like an overwhelming weekly occurrence where I found it hard to gather the willpower to enjoy the subject, let alone sit through 5 hours of it in one go), and it feels like I've just wasted an A Level as well as 2 years having to study it. If I could go back in time, I probably would have chosen a more useful A Level, and one that I would actually enjoy. Also, if my college (or any other one nearby) offered an A Level in Creative Writing, I would have chosen that instead.
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(Original post by shooks)
Here's where you can post a comment about our English A-level student numbers plummet following GCSE reforms article.

Read the full English A-level student numbers plummet following GCSE reforms article and join in the discussion by posting a message below.
So many poems to remember that you didnt have enough time to engage with ANY of it. Also, schools seem to believe that any book with a happy ending is automatically a lesser book; teens are stressed and depressed enough. Plenty of teens really love YA literature shown by the success of books such as The Hunger Games, anything by John Green etc but schools obsess over "the classics" which while integral to an Eng student, inspire no engagement from young people ESPECIALLY those who arent white men who wrote all "the greats".
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ThomH97
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English at GCSE consisted of learning a bunch of poorly written ancient poems, reading plays, and memorising various BS interpretations of the text so you could scribble down as many as possible in the exam before your hand cramped up.

Analysing stuff ruins it in the same way dissecting your puppy stops it being fun and fluffy.

Past learning to spell, use grammar correctly and others things most people have learnt before GCSE age, English is useless except for scenarios where several like-minded people want to compare penis sizes by quoting Shakespeare at each other. This is true for a lot of subjects, but not many make you memorise so much crap or needlessly injure your hand.

I'd say do away with outdated literature (replace with Harry Potter or something), have shorter exams that reward precision rather than waffle, and possibly don't make it compulsory to GCSE so that classes don't have so many kids messing about because they are forced to be there. Then you get a better, happier lead in to A Level that doesn't deter so many people. Obviously keep with the same ideas going forward rather than hitting A Level students with the useless Shakespeare stuff.
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I’m going into year 11 and I really enjoy English literature as subject plus all the English teacher at my school are super kind and willing to take the time and help you. I wouldn’t say I’m a big reader because I’m a bit addicted to my phone 😂😂 I do want to take literature for a- level however the exams for English lit stress me out so much. When I was doing practice essays and had them marked I was getting 25/30 which I was super happy with then in the exam I got 16/30 in each essay and I was so disappointed but the exams are pretty hard considering it’s based on memory of quotes in order to get good grades (obviously analysing them and their effect but to do that you have to have memorised the quotes). Sadly I’m pretty sure a level will be so much harder which is why people probably don’t take it anymore
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